Back breaking day
Joanna is today in charge of the group in the Archbishop’s Palace. They are going to be very busy between the core unit (painting a still life with cool and then warm colours) and continuing the removal of the PVA used as binder by previous restorers in the relining of 2 portraits. I am so pleased that she was ready and happy to lead the team in Panjim.
Meanwhile, up before dawn, we collect Piero on the way and head off to Rachol to put the painting back on its original and final stretcher. We arrive in time for breakfast, thank goodness, because we certainly need sustenance as it is going to be a backbreaking day. The painting is leaning against the wall and we proceed to remove the japan paper that has protected the painted surface. All is well and we are pleased that the canvas has gone back completely to its original structure with no deformity whatsoever. We are left with some raised round areas the size of coins along the two seams. The gesso is very thick and powdery, and I know that the intense moisture has weakened the gesso and that these imperfection cannot be reabsorbed completely, but we risk the delamination of the paint layers and ground if we apply moisture and heat to try to press them down. Hence best left alone.
With the protective paper removed, I start testing the colours and different mixtures of gel solvents to see how it behaves and how many layers of varnish there are. It is going to be a very difficult clean and together with Joe, Rhea and Sandesh we proceed to remove first the oxidized areas which are a combination of the moisture, heat, glue and varnish that occurs with the relining treatment.
I am thrilled to see that with care and understanding each small oxidized patch come off relatively easily. The quicker it is done the better, the oxidized areas left can become harder with time hence more application of solvents which we want to avoid at all cost. More test cleaning reveals uneven layers of different natural resins, repaint and previous over cleaning. In essence a very difficult clean is expected ahead of us.
After lunch, we are set for the last stage of our treatment, putting back the painting on the original stretcher. This was beautifully built using teak, but is not ideal for us as we cannot use wedges. The carpenter and his team carefully plane all the edges so that we avoid future stretcher marks. Getting the painting onto the stretcher takes all of six hours with mainly Piero and Caetano, Carlos, Joe and Sandesh helped by seminarians and Christopher to pull and restretch the canvas – it is simply backbreaking work.
The job is not completed until after seven when we are invited to go and have tea with the Archbishop who has arrived unbeknownst to us for one of his monthly visits to the seminarians. Looking absolutely filthy we sit down to have a well-deserved cup of rose tea and in impeccable Italian His Grace tells us this amazing story:
During the war, in a town in Germany a bomb destroyed a statue of Christ the Redeemer. The local people decided to rebuild it using only the fragments they had there. All was put back, feet body and head, until they got to the hands when they found that there was no original material left. They were in consternation until they heard a voice saying: ‘I don’t need hands, because I have your hands helping me.’